26 April 2019
While Carrie Lam says Hong Kong's national anthem law will not be retroactive, her government seems to be gathering evidence on potential law breakers ahead of the legislation. Photo: Reuters
While Carrie Lam says Hong Kong's national anthem law will not be retroactive, her government seems to be gathering evidence on potential law breakers ahead of the legislation. Photo: Reuters

Does Lam mean what she says about the national anthem law?

Once again, some Hong Kong people refused to show their respect to China’s national anthem in an international friendly football match held last week in Hong Kong. They booed, refused to stand up or turned their back as the anthem was being played.

Several policemen were inside the stadium and took photos of those who booed during the anthem. It seems that the government is intent on gathering evidence in advance of the passage of Hong Kong’s version of the national anthem law next year.

While Chief Executive Carrie Lam stressed that the national anthem law should not be retroactive, the pro-Beijing camp insists that it should be. The loudest voices are those of senior members, which means they have influence on the issue.

Former secretary for justice Elsie Leung, vice chair of the Basic Law Committee, said on Sunday that Legco could consider making the planned legislation apply retroactively if there are further incidents of disrespect before the legislation is enacted.

She noted that Hong Kong’s criminal laws don’t have retroactive force but said Legco does have the right to state when laws should be deemed to have taken effect due to the seriousness of an act and the impact on society.

Just one day ago, Hong Kong people learned from another pro-Beijing veteran that the proposed law should not affect the daily life of most Hong Kong people. Rita Fan, a local delegate to the National People’s Congress, said the process is straightforward and Hong Kong’s law on the national flag provides a good precedent.

She said there is a group of politicians and a minority, who have always had concerns about the issue. Fan said there is no reason for the government to make the national anthem law retroactive, even if there have been serious breaches before its enactment.

From Fan’s perspective, booing the national anthem is not that serious a breach of the law. She may have a better understanding of what Hong Kong people think about the authorities in Beijing than Leung on the matter. Fan also said the law should not intrude into Hong Kong people’s daily lives.

The question is, do these comments represent Beijing’s views?

In fact, the Chinese version of the law does not have a retroactive arrangement but the punishment is much harsher than Hong Kong people think.

Most Hong Kong people are paying attention to the punishment provision of the law which could affect their freedom of expression or their right to say no.

For her part, Lam urged people not to do anything disrespectful to the national anthem between now and when the legislation is enacted.

The government may not want to hold a public consultation on the legislation, citing the law is not that complicated.

In that case, the government should put up a draft of the law in simple terms that are easy to understand, rather than merely come up with a list of what people can and cannot do.

That would be nonsense. People will always have their own way to express their anger or dissatisfaction during the playing of the national anthem.

The law should give the public room to breath just as it requires people to show respect to the national anthem. If not, it will only provoke the youth into a radical behavior. Simply speaking, the government should respect the way Hong Kong people behave during the playing of the national anthem.

From the democrats’ perspective, the national anthem law should be withheld to avoid forcing Hong Kong people into showing their political loyalty. But can a public consultation settle such a sensitive issue? The answer is no.

So, it is useless for Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan to urge the government to conduct a public consultation. The government has so many loyalists that can set the results of the consultation. The democrats may be trying to test the law to see how the government sets the standard.

It’s reasonable for a person to respect the national anthem of his or her home country. But for Hong Kong, the case is complicated as not all Hong Kong people are Chinese. Other nationals in Hong Kong have no responsibility to follow the Chinese national anthem law. The government should first respect one’s nationality.

Reverend Michael Yeung of the Hong Kong Catholic Church argues that most Hong Kong people are Chinese, so it is normal for them to sing the national anthem. The problem is that even though 94 percent of Hong Kong people are Chinese, not all Chinese recognise the People’s Republic of China.

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EJ Insight writer

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